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'Do you see why we're angry?' At the March for Our Lives rally in Parkland, survivors are fed up

Gerard Albert III
Organizers estimate 1,500 people gathered at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, FL on June 11, 2022 for a March for Our Lives rally. Student survivors of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School founded the organization, inspiring young people across the country to join the fight for gun control.

Student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting launched the March For Our Lives gun control movement four years ago in the wake of that massacre. Activists marched again over the weekend in hundreds of cities across the country, following a series of mass shootings — including a painfully familiar one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

At the rally in Parkland on Saturday, the overwhelming feelings were anger and frustration.

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When the shooting happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Zoe Weissman was right next door. She was a sixth grader at Westglades Middle. She lives with the horror of that day.

“I couldn’t focus on school but no one could,” Zoe said. “I was plagued by nightmares of normal scenarios turning into shooting ranges, at one point refusing to sleep for two days. I feared what would happen when I closed my eyes.”

Gerard Albert III
The March for Our Lives rally in Parkland drew protestors from across South Florida.

Now, she’s 16 and director of the Parkland chapter of March for Our Lives. Zoe says her activism has helped her process what happened. But she's furious that four years and four months after Parkland this organizing is still needed.

In her speech during a March for Our Lives rally in Parkland on Saturday, she spoke directly to members of Congress.

“Imagine if I was your child,” she said. “Do you see why we’re angry? Do you see why we’re pissed? You’re a politician! If you don’t give a damn about us then don’t run on improving our lives!”

Organizers estimate about 1,500 people came to Pine Trails Park on Saturday, once again demanding an end to gun violence. Since 2018, they’ve come back to this park again and again — to grieve, to hope, to sing.

But this time, the feelings were of frustration and anger. Zoe led the crowd in a chant, her voice thick with emotion.

“We call BS!” they chanted. “We call BS!”

Kate Payne
People of all ages gathered at Pine Trails Park for a rally organized by March for Our Lives. It's a place where activists have gathered again and again to mourn, to hope, and to heal.

There were people of all ages, from across South Florida, in the crowd: students and educators, parents and grandparents. They carried handmade signs reading, “Stop praying and do something,” “I should not feel numb,” and “What if I’m next?”

Olivia Joseph just graduated high school from Terra Environmental Research Institute in Miami and came to the rally wearing her graduation cap. Her sign read “I survived. Will you?”

“The fact that I graduated and there’s a lot of people out there who won’t get to graduate because no one’s doing anything about it,” she said. “It’s really supposed to call attention to that in the best way that I thought I could.”

Debbie Hixon’s husband Chris died trying to stop the Parkland shooter. She’s a retired teacher and now a Broward County School Board member.

“Chris spent his life protecting others up until his very last moment. He survived a war, but he did not survive a day at school,” she told the crowd. “I am so heartbroken that we are still begging our lawmakers to make changes to keep us safe from preventable gun violence.”

Gerard Albert III
Debbie Hixon lost her husband Chris in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He died trying to stop the shooter. She says she 'lives with the emptiness' gun violence leaves everyday.

For the Parkland survivors, it’s a painful reckoning — their unimaginable loss, 17 people, wasn’t enough to stop this from happening again and again. Sarah Lerner is a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“A shooting should not have happened at my school,” Lerner said. “But it also should have stopped at my school.”

The killing hasn’t stopped.

Kate Payne
Olivia Joseph recently graduated high school from Terra Environmental Research Institute in Miami. She says too many students never get the chance to get their diploma because of gun violence.

In the four years since Parkland, more than 147,000 Americans have been killed by guns, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. The vast majority did not die in mass shootings but in everyday acts of domestic violence, community violence and suicide.

Sari Kaufman survived the Parkland shooting when she was a sophomore. Back then she thought, "this time will be different."

“As I was looking back last night at the speech I gave in 2018, on this same stage, I kept asking myself, was there something more I could have said?” she told the crowd. “Was there anything we could have done differently to bring about change?”

“Who here is angry at our elected officials for not doing anything on the federal level?” she yelled as the crowd roared.

“Who here is angry that our representatives do nothing while children die in the streets and in our schools? Who here is angry that they have allowed gun violence to become the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States?” Kaufman said. “But while our elected officials have continued to let us down, you and this movement have not!”

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz acknowledged the reality that the sickeningly familiar shooting in Uvalde, Texas — the murders of 19 children and two teachers — likely won’t lead to sweeping changes.

“I’m calling myself hopeful but doubtful," Wasserman Schultz told WLRN. "That we’ll pass something incremental and small that won’t be good enough.”

Judy Gelber is an American government and history teacher in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She made the trip up to the rally with a colleague from iPrep Academy. Gelber says it’s hard to keep her faith in Congress alive — and to instill that faith in her students.

“I think as educators it’s part of what we have to do. We have to set the example, be the role model for them — that you don't give up, even when it’s discouraging,” Gelber said. “Nothing ever changes if everyone says nothing will change.”

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: dial 711, then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter